Pittsburgh priest: Catholics angered by abuse reports deserve a hearing

by Kevin J. Jones | Catholic News Agency/EWTN News

Catholics who are demoralized, angered, or scandalized by revelations about sex abuse must feel free to talk to clergy and other Catholics, and other Catholics must reach out to them, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh has said.

“I would invite those who are wavering to be open about their concerns – their anger, their frustration, their questions – so that someone can respond to them,” Father Nicholas Vaskov, executive director of communications for the Pittsburgh diocese, told CNA.

“I would also encourage them to stay close to God in prayer so that he can hear their calls to him and respond with his compassion and love.”

Father Vaskov, who is also administrator St. Mary of Mercy parish in downtown Pittsburgh, reflected on the tendency of some people scandalized by abuse allegations to stop going to Mass. He encouraged Catholic clergy and laity to “be patient with those who are scandalized by the reports.”

“Listen attentively as they share what is on their heart,” he said. “I would also suggest that clergy and laity reach out to those who they know are particularly troubled by what they have learned. Thoughtful conversation can be such an effective way to process what is troubling us.”

On Aug. 14 a Pennsylvania grand jury released its report claiming to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests from 1947 to 2017 across six Pennsylvania dioceses. It presented a portrait of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations, either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

Approximately two-thirds of the accused priests have died. Due to laws regarding the statute of limitations, nearly every abuse allegation cannot be criminally prosecuted, although two indictments have been filed.

Responding to the report, Zubik emphasized that “the Diocese of Pittsburgh today is not the Church that is described in the grand jury report,” and that “it has not been for a long time.” Data from the diocese showed that more than 90 percent of abuse incidents took place before 1990.

The bishop apologized to victims of clergy sex abuse and to “any person or family whose trust, faith and well-being has been devastated by men who were ordained to be the image of Christ.”

Father Vaskov cited his experiences with churchgoers who went to Mass in the wake of the latest news. He thought there was an upturn in attendance for the Aug. 15 feast of the Assumption, a holy day of obligation which came a day after the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

He also reflected on what churchgoers told him, such as one woman at Mass last Sunday.

“She said that while it was difficult for her to go, she knew that she couldn’t be anywhere else because it is only in the Eucharist that we can be renewed,” the priest said. “Another conversation with a recent convert to the Catholic faith revealed the depth of his love for Christ and His Church and his desire to stay close to the sacraments when he felt his frustration was getting the better of him.”

Father Vaskov said that in response to the abuse scandals, many parishes had organized holy hours, days of Eucharistic adoration, discussion groups, and listening sessions. He said he has had “beautiful moments” praying with people for “strength in their lives and in the lives of those who have been harmed by abuse.”

“I have also had some very fruitful conversations with parishioners, friends and strangers over the past weeks because they were willing to open up about their concerns,” the priest said. “That doesn’t mean that every issue is resolved or every suffering is healed, but it is the beginning of an important discussion that needs to happen.”